Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ento starbombers

The last of the ships from my painting stint over the weekend, a trio of Sting-class starbombers from the Entomalian Empire.
Note that the species is referred to as the Entomalian in Starfleet Wars; while it's spelled Entomolian in Galactic Knights.
The head-on view brings out the insectile look of these craft.
Once again, I went for the iridescent look that's characteristic of my Entomalian fleet.
Enough painting--I need to play some games!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Carnivore starbombers

Here's the trio of Carnivore/Carnivoran (the two games use these terms interchangably) starbombers I completed over the weekend.  They're painted to match the rest of my Carnie fleet.
Like star armored pursuit ships, starbombers in Starfleet Wars are fragile craft, unable to withstand even a single hit from a large warship.  They pack plenty of particle weapons, though, so they remain a substantial threat to the bigger starships while vulnerable to fighters as well.
In Galactic Knights, starbombers are also delicate, and they often carry multiple salvoes of plasma torpedoes, capable of gutting the biggest starships in a single turn.
 This type of ship also has plenty of anti-fighter weapons, but not as much as the SAPS.
I like the streamlined look of these ships; seems very 1950s-futuristic rocket-like, with the great big intake up front.  They look like they'll come in handy for other spaceship games too; particularly War Rocket.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Terran armored pursuit ships

Here's a closer look at the pair of Dauntless-class star armored pursuit ships (SAPS) for Starfleet Wars/Galactic Knights that I painted earlier this weekend.  As you can see, I used my conventional colors for the Terran spacecraft.
As you can probably tell from the weapons on this model, the SAPS is meant to function as a mobile antiaircraft platform, giving larger ships protection from enemy fighters.
 In Starfleet Wars, the SAPS shares game mechanics with starbombers, but have no offensive capability against larger ships--they're only good versus fighters, starbombers, and other star armored pursuit ships.
 In Galactic Knights, armored pursuit ships (there's no "star" prefix in GK) play much the same role, but use the same offensive and defensive rules as conventional ships--they just have less armor and fewer weapons.
I like the design for this model, which on the table is nearly as long as a Terran destroyer, and judging from the silhouette, probably thicker as well.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rock on!

A quick planetoid from a lava rock I found in my driveway.  I just made a base like usual, stuck the rock on it, spraypainted black, and drybrushed gray.  A dozen or so more, and I will have enough for a decent-sized asteroid belt.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Something constructive

As I have a very long weekend, I decided to get a little painting done.  I've finally started painting some more starbombers and stellar armored pursuit ships--the "smaller" Starfleet Wars/Galactic Knights vessels (I use quote marks here because even though, gamewise, these spaceships are smaller and less powerful than destroyers, the actual models are at least as big as DDs.
I'll post some more gallery pictures of these ships later this weekend; for now it's just a quick work table shot.  In the lower right you can see my other Star Frontiers battleship, primered and ready for painting.  I'll tackle it soon, promise (gotta pace myself, right?).
You can see another asteroid from a lava rock in this photo.  It was simple to paint: spray black, drybrush gray, and done.  I still need to decide how to paint the remaining armored pursuit ships, which for some reason I primered in gray awhile back.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wish I could make it to Houston this weekend

It's kind of short notice, but I just found out about this gathering on Memorial Day weekend: Comicpalooza in Houston.  This event bills itself as "the best and biggest annual multi-format pop culture convention in the southwest region of the United States."

While it covers all sorts of geeky subjects--comics, movies, sci-fi and fantasy, horror, steampunk, and new media--it's the gaming offerings that interest me.  Convention guests from the gaming industry include Steve Jackson and a couple of later-edition Dungeons & Dragons game designers, Chris Perkins and Chris Sims.

Most of the games are 4E D&D or Pathfinder, which aren't my thing, but I did notice a couple of miniatures events on the schedule: Undead States of America (a zombie game) and Universal Space Game System (spaceship combat), both by Ubergoober Games.

There's also a videogame setup that sounds really interesting: the Artemis Bridge Spaceship Simulator, created by Thom Robertson, which features several linked computers simulating the main screen and bridge stations of a starship.  I'd love to give this one a try.  Maybe someone can set this up at the next Millennium Con or Chimaera Con.

Is anyone planning on attending this convention?  If so, I'd love to see some photos.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I want to play Starfleet Wars ...

... so I've been studying the rules.  The best way for me to learn a game is to make up my own quick reference sheet.  By referring to every part of the rules, going back and forth through the books to tie them all together, and restating them in my own words, I end up with a pretty decent grasp of the rulebook.

I did that for Starfleet Wars, putting most of the information needed for play onto a single 8½" x 11" piece of paper.  But in doing so, I realized the game still requires players to process a lot of information for each ship, especially if you use all the advanced rules.  The ship record sheet in the SfW rulebook is pretty sparse when it comes to giving a player everything necessary to use all the vessel's weapons, which led me to design my own.  Here's an example:

This new record sheet has a list of all the options available to a starship captain, and space to designate targets and write orders for true simultaneous play.  When I do get to play Starfleet Wars, hopefully this record sheet will make the game run smoothly.

So does anyone else devise their own play aids for their wargames, or am I just waaaaaay to obsessive?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A view from below

While everyone knows the Starfleet Wars/Galactic Knights miniatures are very detailed, not many people realize the undersides of these figures are intricate as well.  I still have a few unpainted ships on hand, so I thought I'd give my readers a look at the ventral sides of these vessels.  First, some Avarian spaceships:
Avarian stellar cruiser

Avarian galactic battlecruiser

Avarian galactic attack carrier
As you can see, the Avarian ships look pretty good from beneath.  Now take a look at some of the Terran craft:
Terran stellar destroyer

Terran galactic battlecruiser

Terran galactic attack carrier
As you can see, the Earth ships look just as good from below as they do from above.  Since I base all my ships, players don't really get to appreciate the detailing on the undersides of these models.  It's almost enough to make me want to get some telescoping flight stands and figure out some 3-D rules--almost.

OGRE update--it's official

Some good tidings from the creator of OGRE, and one caveat (this came out last week, but I just now noticed it).

Straight from the keyboard of the man who puts the Steve Jackson into Steve Jackson Games, here's the latest word on OGRE Sixth Edition:
"Yes, we're definitely going to do it."
According to Evil Stevie, the fancy new edition of OGRE will go through distributors to local game stores (it's not just a Warehouse 23 offering).  And yes, the map will work with the miniatures.  But he only plans to print 3,000 copies (plus some extra boards and counters to be sold separately through W23), so make sure you reserve yours.

The catch?  He's not sure if it will come out this year.  Still, we now know it will happen.  Stay tuned.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts on a starship campaign

While one-off battles are fun (especially if there is some sort of in-game backgroud to justify the fight beyond the usual line-'em-up-and-knock-'em-over), these games often devolve into meatgrinders where players throw all their assets away on the last turn because they have nothing left to lose.  I'd like to run or play some games that reflect "reality"--whether historical or fictional--a little more closely; matches where one side might flee to fight aother day when its commander realizes they are outclassed or where an admiral pulls ships out before they become too damaged because there's another battle looming.

I'm thinking of two approaches for the starship campaign I'd like to run:  The first is a traditional multi-sided affair in which each player allocates a certain amount of ships to attack and/or defend multiple objectives; I envision this type of game will eventually end with one side victorious over the others.  Call this choice the Admiral's Game (an extension of this is a system for shipbuilding, industrial development, and technology research: the Accountant's Game--fun, but too much work for me to actually run).

The second idea is closer to a traditional role-playing game--each player starts as the commander of a small starship and--with time, effort and a bit of luck--can get promoted to, buy or capture larger and larger ships, and eventually lead a squadron or even a fleet.  Such a campaign has no specified endgame, and could run indefinitely.  This would be the Captain's Game.

As I'm not sure which game I want to use for starship combat, I need to make the campaign system rules-independent.  But it should easily translate across rulebooks.  Here's what I have so far: Each player starts with one captain.  Each captain has four attributes: spacefaring, crew, leadership, and luck. 
  • Spacefaring refers to all skills: piloting, navagating, electronics, shooting, and so on.  This might affect initial setup, initiative, or other scenario-specific factors, depending on the referee.
  • Crew represents the total capacity of the ship's personnel.  This number will start out at 100% and can change during a battle and afterward, depending on a captain's performance.  Note this is an abstract number, as a destroyer at 100% crew has less personnel in absolute numbers than a dreadnought.  Crew percentages below 100 are usually handled by the combat rules; a cew percentage of more than 100 percent will not affect a ship's efficiency, but will help in replacing casualties after a battle or assigning prize crews to captured ships.
  • Leadership is what it says on the tin: it affects how a captain recruits and maintains a crew.  It also affects how well subordinate captains in other ships follow orders, as well as influencing negotiations with nonplayer entities.
  • Luck stands for karma, fate, or script immunity.  Mechanically, this attribute allows a player to reroll a single die roll, once per game, with a modifier equal to the captain's luck.  Alternatively, once per game a player may reroll the opponent's die roll, modifying it by their luck.
Success in battle can increase these characteristics; likewise, poor performance could decrease them.  Beginning captains are not allowed any vessel of destroyer size or larger; this means a starting player gets a scout, corvete, frigate, starbomber or armored pursuit ship.  Successful missions can lead to promotions and larger commands (including multiple craft), or a captain might reflag a captured ship, leaving a trusted subordinate in command of the original vessel.

What do you think?  Does the Captain's Game sound like something you'd be interested in?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More spaceship names

Speaking of names, I have a house rule that players must name all their starships before the game begins, and that applies to scenarios I run at conventions.  The designations can be silly, serious, or anything in between.

This post about character names on B/X Blackrazor reminded me that I needed to share the spaceship designations the players came up with for my Chimaera Con game last month.

The attacker, playing the Terran federation, chose Earth place names for members of his fleets:
  • South America (battlecruiser)
  • Andes (cruiser)
  • Brazil (destroyer leader)
  • Reo de Jenero (destroyer)
  • Buenos Ares (destroyer)
  • Lima (destroyer)
  • North America (battlecruiser)
  • Rockies (cruiser)
  • Canada (destroyer leader)
  • Washington (destroyer)
  • Ottawa (destroyer)
  • Mexico City (destroyer)
The defender took a more esoteric, yet alliterative, approach:
  • Jenius (cruiser)
  • Jonas (cruiser)
  • Korn (armored pursuit ship)
  • Cookie (armored pursuit ship)
  • Jasper (cruiser)
  • Juno (cruiser)
  • Clattu (armored pursuit ship)
  • Koman (armored pursuit ship)
  • Enterprise (battlecruiser)
I ran the transport fleet, which consisted of Asimov-class cargo ships.  (They didn't have individual names because I ran out of time preparing for the game.  But if the referee can't ignore his own house rules, where's the fun in that?) 

I want to eventually run a starship campaign game, and imparting names to all the vessels involved will add to the sense of continuity in this endeavor.  But before I christen all my starships, I need to figure out the campaign rules ...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Monk With No Name

Although my wife's thief is doing pretty well for herself in the Hill Cantons campaign, my spouse wants to try out a monk character (we're using the Labyrinth Lord rules and their Advanced Edition Companion). 

So when we were at Dibble's Hobbies in San Antonio recently, we picked out a suitable miniature: Jade Star, Female Monk--Reaper No. 2629 (pictured above, and I have no idea why the colors came out so different in each shot).

While my wife likes the mini, she's not so keen on the name "Jade."  We need to figure out a new moniker for this monk, and we talked about watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for inspiration.  I thought I'd ask readers for suggestions as well--any idea on what to call this martial artist?  Also, we're considering color schemes for her clothing, so submissions in that regard will be appreciated as well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Interstellar treasure

Last week I had some time to kill in San Antonio, so I went to check out a Half-Price Books location.  Like my trip to one of those stores a few months ago, this latest excursion also proved fruitful:
I found a compilation of the first nine volumes of the original Traveller rules.  That's right, the game that launched a thousand starships: classic Traveller.  Although I think I still have my original ruleset, I have no idea where it might be, so it was cool to stumble across this.

This book reprints the first three booklets from the original Traveller boxed set (the one with the "Free Trader Beowulf" quote on the lid):  Characters and Combat, Starships, and Worlds and Adventures.  It also includes the first five supplements--mercenaries, interstellar navies, scouts, merchants, and robots--and "Book 0," an introduction to Traveller and role-playing.  This volume came out in 2000.  It has a $28 cover price brand-new, but look how much I ended up paying for it:
plus tax.
I was a little concerned, however, when I flipped through the pages and noticed someone had written inside the book:
A closer look showed just who had taken a pen to the frontspiece: the game's creator, Marc Miller!
OK, I don't know if it's actually his autograph, but I bought this book as a reader, not a collector, so the signed page was just a bonus. 

These rules are what the kids call crunchy--with a lot of detailed mechanics on building characters, vehicles, ships, worlds, economic systems and even star systems.  My favorite quote?  This passage from Book 3:
The referee has the responsibility for mapping the universe before actual game play begins.  The entire universe is not necessary immediately, however, as on a a small portion can be used at any one time.
I don't know if I'll ever get around to playing this, but there are plenty of ideas useful for other science fiction games.  Stand by, Free Trader Beowulf--help is on the way!

Monday, May 9, 2011

A closer look at Starfleet Wars (part 4)

So we’ve covered the basic Starfleet Wars game, examined the SfW advanced rules, and taken a look at some of the game’s supplemental material, such as starfortresses and SGDNs.  But Starfleet Wars Book 2 packed even more rules into those twelve pages, and we’ll go over the rest of them right now.

At the other end of the spectrum from the super galactic dreadnought, SfW2 describes two new ship classes smaller than a stellar destroyer: the starbomber and the star armored pursuit ship.  These craft are the worst of both worlds—too big to avoid a starship’s main guns, and too small to shrug off a starfighter’s lasers.  One hit from an offensive factor or particle weapon destroys these ships, and they also go boom if they take four hits from attack craft.  They do have their uses, though: as torpedo boats and anti-aircraft platforms, respectively.  SBs and SAPS both carry small lasers of their own, which are only good against fighters, transports, or other starbombers and stellar armored pursuit ships.  SAPS have about twice the laser firepower of SBs, but starbombers also carry a fair number of particle weapons while pursuit ships have none.

Speaking of transports, Book 2 doesn’t say too much about them.  Called galactic transports on the data table at the center of the rules, these noncombatants have a maximum speed factor of 4.  They take damage from attack craft lasers, and otherwise operate similar to other starships, with offensive and/or defensive factors (max of 1) and even Close-In Defense Systems.  Also of note, I think there’s some sort of interface with the MAATAC ground combat game, as the chart lists “Launchers” and “ROB” for each galactic transport, just like the starfortress module table in the section for using starfortresses with MAATAC.

Another question the new material raises is how to stop the most colossal starship on the table, the super galactic dreadnought.  The authors give us the answer with the Captive Towed Tactical Missile.  CapTacs are big—larger than a starfighter—and they can’t enter the battle on their own; you have to use a ship’s tractor beam to tow them into combat (or a starfortress’s tractor beams to hold them in place).  This puts a practical limit on how many CapTacs you can bring, as a starship can only haul two of the massive missiles at a time (and like when towing anything, you’re stuck with a maximum movement factor of 2).  Another weakness: CapTacs are vulnerable to starships’ CIDS and starfighters’ small lasers—and if one gets blown up while being towed, the energy feedback damages the ship that’s pulling the missile.

But these large devices do have their advantages:  First, unlike starfighters, there is no limit to the number of CapTacs that can attack a single ship in the same turn.  Therefore, a swarm of missiles will likely result in at least a couple of hits.  In addition, CapTacs can be towed to a certain point, cast free, and triggered remotely at a later time.  Also, these missiles do a fairly huge amount of damage—40 power units.  Finally, similar to particle weapons (which have their own table in the original rules), a successful hit with a CapTac means a roll on the Book 2 special damage table, which usually only occurs when a ship has sustained at least 20 percent damage.

The rules call for rolls on the special damage table to be kept secret, based on the premise that an opponent would have no way of knowing what, if any damage occurred on the enemy ship.  In practice, however, I think I would require such rolls in the open.  The in-game justification is that advanced sensors can tell what’s happening with your foe; the metagaming reason is that I just think it’s fun to roll and announce the results.

The special damage outcomes vary from no effect (by far the most likely) to sensor damage (reducing weapons range) to temporary or permanent reductions in offensive or defensive capacity, and so on.  I like this feature, as it could not only affect the current game, but could carry over to subsequent battles if playing in a campaign.  This table also allows for that “golden BB” factor: there’s a tiny chance of a reactor hit, which destroys the target vessel.

Damage of the non-reactor kind can be fixed using the damage control rules; I think this occurs at the end of the turn.  As that part of Starfleet Wars Book 2 is missing from my copy, that’s about all I can tell you about that subject. 

I do have some more to add to this review, though: There’s a little additional game material for Starfleet Wars in another publication: the Observer’s Directory & Identification Manual.  While the ODIM is mostly setting background material, it contains two tables of note.  First, it lists data for some new releases by Superior Models, including stellar destroyer leaders, space stations, galactic attack carriers, and galactic battlecruisers.  Second, there’s a new firing table with better to-hit odds that (shades of Munchkin), is only available to players that own this publication.

All-in-all, Starfleet Wars seemed intimidating at first glance.  However, after a careful review, I can see the nuances this game possesses.  It combines some classic science fiction tropes with interesting game mechanics and player choices, all in a set of rules that probably contains fewer words than this multi-part review.  It isn't perfect—especially the unrealistic movement system—but I'm looking forward to giving this game a test drive.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A closer look at Starfleet Wars (part 3)

The initial Starfleet Wars game book provided basic rules for starship combat as well as advanced options for a more detailed SfW game.  A couple of years later, Starfleet Wars Book 2 added expanded rules, including space stations, transports, specialized anti-fighter ships, a superweapon, and the type of ship that inspired this blog’s name.  This rules supplement doesn't add anything earth-shaking to SfW, but it does round out the game nicely, as you will see.

Before I get started, you need to know I’m working from a partial copy of SfW2, which I acquired along with several spaceship minis in an ebay purchase.  Although the supplement runs 12 pages long, I only have the center eight pages.  Luckily, the Starfleet Wars Book 2 entry at Board Game Geek can help fill in some of the blanks, and the Observer’s Directory & Identification Manual will help complete this sketch.

The SfW sequel includes rules for space stations and starfortresses.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Well, gleaning what I can from the ODIM and my incomplete copy of Book 2, space stations are basically slow-moving (speed factor 1) platforms that function identically to starships, complete with maximum offensive/defensive factors and particle weapons.

Starfortresses, on the other hand, are modular constructs that have to be taken out one piece at a time.  The nomenclature for the components is evocative of Apollo-era NASA terminology, complete with esoteric acronyms: Medium Auxiliary Weapons System (MAWS), Life Support System (LSS), Mobile Armed Destroyer (MAD), and so on.  Each module has a certain in-game function, such as weaponry, sensors/fire control, or power generation, as well as its own power rating.  Starfortresses can also repair other ships during a game.

When a starfortress section takes damage equal to its power rating, it’s destroyed.  Interestingly, an attacker has the option of aiming at a specific type of module, but not an individual section.  The shooter takes a penalty on the to-hit roll for trying to target a certain kind of module, but a successful hit means the defender must apply damage to the designated sort of equipment.  Conversely, if someone who just shoots at the starfortress as a whole (without targeting a specific module) scores a hit, the defending player gets to choose where to assign the damage.  Also of historical note, Book 2 includes rules for using starfortresses in MAATAC, the publisher’s ground-combat game in the Five Powers setting.

My favorite part of the second book is, of course, the section on super galactic dreadnoughts—which, apparently, are just like galactic dreadnoughts, except they go to eleven.  SGDNs have a total power of around twice that of GDNs (the Victory-class, for example starts with 480 power units!), and up to 20 times the capacity of stellar destroyers.  Just as important, these massive ships’ maximum offense and defense reach the double digits, meaning they can deal a world of hurt to smaller craft, while the lesser vessels probably won’t even be able to scratch the supers.

The supes also hold quite a few fighters, nearly as many as galactic attack carriers, and carry enough particle weapons that their players will have a hard time shooting them all in a single game.  Not only that, but this largest ship type possesses a Close-In Defense System factor of 100 percent.  That means that for every CIDS shot (and ships get one attack for each one-tenth of their power remaining), the SGDN gets an automatic kill!  Since CIDS target fighters (and a maximum of a dozen fighters at once can attack a single ship), sending fighters against a super galactic is pretty much a suicide mission.

But wait, there’s more!  Not only do you get all the conventional offensive and defensive factors of a capital ship, but if you own a superdread, you also add a bonus factor to those values.  After calculating your power allocation for your lasers and shields in the usual manner, you add an additional amount to each value for your dreadnought.  In other words, spend 100 power units for an offensive factor of 10, and add another 7 to that total just because the ship in question is a Terran super galactic dreadnought.  Not until an opponent weakens the super to one-quarter of its starting power does the ginormous starship lose this additional factor.

As the supplement says (but in different words), these extra points reflect the awesomeness of the SGDN.  The book also caveats no more than two supers per side in any single battle, otherwise game balance could go out the window.

With such a powerful ship type, it seems that it would take vast numbers of lesser starships to wear down a super galactic dreadnought.  Such a game might prove interesting at first, but such an exercise in attrition would probably quickly become boring to one or both of the participants.  Luckily, Starfleet Wars Book 2 includes a weapon capable of dealing enough damage to give pause to all starship captains, even those commanding SGDNs.  What, exactly, is this device?  You can find out in part four of my Starfleet Wars review.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A closer look at Starfleet Wars (part 2)

While the basic Starfleet Wars game provides tough choices for players—“How much should I move, shoot, or protect myself?”—the book's advanced system brings in rules crunch as well as sci-fi fluff. 

The nature of defensive screens means they are ineffective if a shooter gets inside the shields’ radius.  A ship can use its tractor beam to draw another ship alongside and attempt to board it—or use that same device to counteract an enemy’s beam.  One of the Five Powers mentioned in the game has an “invisibility shield” (cloaking device!) for its ships, but you need at least half your available power in order to use it.  And all ships have energy damping beams, which can neutralize an opponent’s offense, and maybe its defense too, for that turn.

The Starfleet Wars background shines through in the section on particle weapons.  These are essentially missiles that do a fixed amount of damage and have a chance of causing additional harm, such as a permanent reduction to a target’s maximum offense or defense.  Mechanically, they all work the same, but each species has its own version of the particle weapon with a highly evocative name, from the Terrans’ neutron torpedoes to the Aquarians’ radon bomb catapult to the Entomalians’ thermonuclear dart.

The other big feature of the advanced section is attack craft—i.e., fighters.  These ship-carried vessels come in several flavors: assault, interceptor, and ground support.  Assault craft carry one particle weapon they can launch at a conventional vessel; this particle weapon functions just like those from larger ships.  They can also fire their conventional lasers at other attack craft, but only once.  Interceptors can also try to take out other fighters with their conventional weapons, but they get to shoot for three turns.  Once they’ve shot their load, fighters must return to their carrier and spend one turn on board before they can rejoin the battle.  It’s important to note that only an assault vessel’s particle weapon can damage large warships—an attack craft’s lasers are only effective against other fighters.  Likewise, a warship’s lasers are unable to target the nimble attack craft.

However, starships do have a weapon capable of countering starfighters: the Close in Defense System (CIDS).  Starfleet Wars has an interesting way of depicting this defensive system: each ship class has a CIDS factor, such as the Terran destroyer’s 24%.  When attacked by fighters, a ship gets 10 rolls with the percentile dice; each roll equal to or under the CIDS factor is a hit.  While this is a lot of rolls, a starship loses one CIDS roll for each one-tenth of its starting power lost in combat (so a ship at half-power would only get five CIDS rolls).

As I mentioned, you can use your tractor beam to grab an enemy ship in an attempt to board it.  To determine you success, compare your available power to your opponent’s and make a roll according to a table.  The greater your power superiority, the better your chance of capturing the enemy vessel—you need at least 10 more power units than your target for a 4% chance; a differential of 250 or more is an automatic success.  Note that you’re only comparing power units; neither ship actually spends or loses power during this phase.

Finally, there’s the good ol’ hyperspace jump, referred to as “light speed” in Starfleet Wars.  It takes half of a ships initial power units to make the jump to light speed, and it basically takes the ship out of the game.  While this can come in handy for escaping certain doom on the tabletop, it’s also necessary if you have a campaign that factors in interstellar travel.

The only drawback to Starfleet Wars (besides a lot of basic math) is the huge ranges involved—for example, ships’ lasers have a range of 48 inches, and sensors reach across 60 inches!  That’s why the authors say you need to play on a ping pong table or the floor.  When I do play this game, I’m gonna divide the ranges by three and use a hex mat to keep things manageable (and able to fit on my dining room table).

All in all, there’s quite a few nuggets in this 16-page rulebook.  While the movement system is unrealistic, it’s a helluva lot simpler than the vector mechanics of Galactic Knights.  With a simple combat system and plenty of add-ons, I can see the attractiveness of this game.  And late ’70s gamers must have, too, because they bought enough copies to convince the publisher to issue a Starfleet Wars supplement (or two) a couple of years later, which I will tackle in part three of this Starfleet Wars review.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A closer look at Starfleet Wars (part 1)

Awhile back, The Drune asked for recommendations for an old-school starship combat game that would fit in with his Tékumel prequel, Humanspace Empires.  I didn’t hesitate to recommend the game that inspired this blog: Starfleet Wars

Although I’ve dogged on SfW before, saying I’d hesitate to play a game that requires players to use a calculator to figure out their turns, after reading the rules more carefully, I’ve changed my mind about Starfleet Wars.  Now I would really like to play it.

Sure, the rules are simplistic compared to modern games like Full Thrust or Galactic Knights, and the mechanics are nowhere near as detailed as the near-contemporary Starfleet Battles.  Yes, the movement system is unrealistic as written.  Still, the game is good for what it sets out to depict: “a vision of giant spaceships firing laser weapons at each other from thousands of kilometers apart, tractor beams pulling ships together as in eighteenth century warfare and advanced particle weapons punching holes in their targets hulls.” 

The root of the player’s decision tree in this game is resource allocation.  Unlike many space battle rulesets that let you fire all your weapons, raise all your shields, and proceed at maximum velocity, Starfleet Wars forces participants to make (sometimes hard) choices based on the power available for that ship.  Want to fire all your weapons at the enemy?  You have to divert power from your deflectors.  Trying to catch up to that enemy on the other side of the map?  Sure, but you won’t have much juice left for your lasers.

Power allocation is the first step in a Starfleet Wars turn.  Each ship starts with a certain number of power units.  Despite that term, I consider a ship’s power to represent more than just stored energy.  In addition to reactor output, to me a vessel’s power units quantify factors such as available manpower (or robotpower, or alienpower), automated repair systems, and undamaged equipment.

Here’s the catch: offensive, defensive, and propulsion systems require power units equal to the square of the factor you want—in other words, if you want an offensive factor of 3, it costs 9 power units; a defensive factor of 8 would cost 64 power units.  Not only that, while there’s no theoretical maximum for offensive and defensive factors, each ship class has its own built-in limits for offense and defense.  For example, the Ranger-class cruiser has a starting power of 60, a maximum of 5 offensive factors, and a maximum of 7 defensive factors.  Some quick math shows it will never have enough power to set its offensive (cost of 25 power for 5 O.F.) and defensive (cost of 49 power for 7 D.F.) factors to maximum at the same time.

The next part of the turn is movement.  I like the fact that movement takes place simultaneously, although in practice that will mean everyone needs to write down their moves beforehand.  As noted above, each movement factor (which is 3 inches on the tabletop) costs its square in power units—so a movement factor of 1 costs 1 power unit, a movement factor of two costs 4 power units, and so on.  However, there’s a universal limit of 5 movement factors for all ships, which represents just under the speed of light—anything more than that requires a hyperspace jump and removes the vessel from the table.

After all ships have moved, players choose targets and resolve shooting.  (The rules don’t mention it, but it seems intuitive that all firing takes place simultaneously as well.)  Neither the target’s nor the shooter’s facing matters in this game.  To determine how many shots a starship gets, subtract the target’s defensive factor from the shooter’s offensive factor.  That’s how many die rolls the attacker gets against that target.  The faster two ships are traveling, the harder it is for one to hit the other, but if you’re within half-range, you get a bonus to your die roll.  Note that this game uses percentile dice to resolve shots, a mechanic that was still fairly uncommon at the time it was written. 

Each hit subtracts a certain number of power units from the target, based on the difference between the attacker’s O.F. and the target’s D.F.  Once a ship’s power falls to 0, it means the crew is dead and the ship is now a derelict.  It then can be captured and towed, or the opponent can destroy it with one more successful hit.  In grand sci-fi tradition, the rules also allow a ship to self-destruct, but only if it has at least 5 power units remaining.  Play continues in this manner until one side is destroyed, surrenders, or retreats, or the initial scenario victory conditions are met.

That’s the basic Starfleet Wars game, which is tactical enough to provide interesting player choices and at the same time abstract enough to use as a subset of rules for starship-to-starship combat in a role-playing game.  But the rulebook also includes other weapons and options familiar to science fiction fans, which I’ll discuss in part two of this Starfleet Wars review.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mini-con for South Texas

Over at the Hill Cantons, ckutalik has proposed a one-day convention in San Antonio focusing on so-called classic gaming--i.e., old-school.  Like many trends, this one is also big in California.  Evidently similar gatherings proved popular when they took place in Austin

Chris said he's contemplating running a Braunstein game (whatever that is).  He'd like to see some Austin or Houston folks contribue some original-edition D&D into the mix (mayben Jimm could bring his Skull Mountain game down south). 

I'm definitely up for running Starfleet Wars, an old-school starship combat ruleset if ever there was one.  Not only that, but the microgame OGRE, which debuted in the late '70s, would also be a great fit for such a get-together, and I'd be willing to conduct this sci-fi ground combat game as well.  I'd also like to play in someone else's event, if that's possible.

There's no set date yet, but late July to mid-August would probably be the best time frame.  It would be a free, all-day event with anywhere from two to four games taking place.  As I mentioned over at HC, I'm in.  Readers, any interest in getting together in San Antonio for a mini-game-convention, as a player or a GM?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Firestorm Armada review roundup

My only experience with Firestorm Armada is driving 30+ miles to the final day of Chimaera Con for the FA tournament listed in the schedule, only to find out I needed to bring my own minis.  Still, the GM explained the game to me and the one other person who showed up (the second guy didn't have any miniatures either, and the game master didn't bring any of his own because he had figured he'd be running the tourney), and the rules do look interesting.  The miniatures aren't bad, either.

So once again, I've searched around the Internet for some reviews of this game:
Has anyone played this game?  If so, what did you think?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Out of drydock ...

After spending several months as spaceship parts instead of as a spaceship, my Lion-class battlecruiser is whole once more.  I broke the ship last fall when I was messing around, and it lay in pieces in a box, almost forgotten.
I finally got around to fixing the mini.  Because the head snapped off at the neck, I had to drill holes in each piece and use a section of safety pin as a rod to join the two parts.  The join is barely noticable in the above photo; you probably can't see it unless you're looking for the seam (see arrow below).
The join is slightly more noticable on the underside, but the meld is pretty solid.  I just used Gorilla Glue to stick the pin in one hole, then attach the front to the back and push them together.
I didn't drill the holes straight enough, so once it was glued back together, the front section was crooked until I bent it into the proper shape.  The ship looks good from the side now, too.
I'm happy I was able to salvage this miniature.  For awhile I was scared I was going to have to convert it into two spaceships.  Now it's back in action.
The Lion maneuvers into formation with the Victory during a wargames exercise.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Full Thrust review roundup

I've played Full Thrust a couple of times and I enjoyed the rules (which are free downloads).  Courtesy of Google's blog search, I thought I'd share some recent (and not-so-recent) reviews of Full Thrust:
If you've been thinking about picking up a starship combat game, maybe these links will help you with your decision.  If you have some other game you like to play, tell us about it in the comments.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"What's so civil 'bout war, anyway?"

(or, Civil War Saturday redux)

Yesterday, I went over to Joe's for another game of Johnny Reb.  Like the last time we played, we were refighting the Battle of Chickamauga.  Unlike the previous game, this time there were only the two of us fighting on Joe's great layout. 
We randomly chose who would play each side, and I ended up leading the Northern aggressors. 
The scenario began in media res, with one Yankee unit aleready routed and skedaddling toward the rear, with another Union brigade set up in overwatch.
The U.S. also had plenty of reinforcements coming up the road (I like how the material used for the stream reflects the light in the above photo, making the watercourse look that much more realistic).
The scenario was slightly ahistorical, in that the forces were set up as if one Confederate division that had been left behind to guard another objective had instead joined the battle.
 The game began with a Rebel yell, as the Confederates charged the retreating Yanks.
They also attempted to charge the dug-in troops on the hill, but the Union infantry held their ground (for the most part).
The battle was fully engaged on my left flank (at the top of the photo below) and starting to join in the middle.  Meanwhile, more Confederates were coming in from the right.
 Reb sharpshooters tried to harass my forces, but the green troops weren't very effective against the Yankees.
My artillery batteries in the middle of the battle didn't do much good against the CSA guns (shown below), but back on my left, the one battery that didn't flee the battlefield managed to take out an entire Rebel brigade.
But the Rebs had some heavy artillery of their own, such as this battery of Napoleons that packed a mean punch and were about to join the middle of the battle.
Unfortunately, prior commitments forced me to leave at that point, so the game ended as it began: in the middle of things.  Maybe we can pick it up again sometime soon.